A Multi-faith, Moral Message: Every Vote Must Count

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.

When I think back on this week two years ago, one of my dominant memories is that as our Jewish community was reeling and overcome with fear, anger and grief, we were cared for by our friends from other faith communities. Mosques and churches reached out to us in the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, sending heartfelt notes of condolence and words of comfort, and offering Kavana their sanctuaries to use as safe gathering spaces as we planned vigils. I recall feeling, in the wake of that attack, that this coming together in a strong, diverse coalition represented the best of what our American society can be when we recognize our common humanity, work actively to protect the most vulnerable, and stand together in pursuit of a better, more just world for us all.

At the moment, this kind of vision-driven interfaith work is occupying a bigger portion of my rabbinic plate than usual. Here are a few examples:

  • Last week, I met with my Black-Jewish clergy group to discuss the film that Kavana will be co-sponsoring in a few weeks (see below). The deep relationships I’ve forged with “the reverends” through our year of shared study have enabled us to go deep into some of the hardest chapters of our communities’ shared histories, and will hopefully serve as a solid foundation as we continue to build “beloved community,” broaden the conversation, and move towards shared action in addressing systemic racism.  
  • On Monday evening, I participated in a Mourning into Unity candle-light vigil in the parking lot of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Capitol Hill. Led by clergy from across a number of faith traditions, this service mourned those who have lost their lives to Covid, and we “prayed the ballot” together.
  • Tomorrow, I will participate in an interfaith conference organized by King County Public Health. Throughout the Covid pandemic, faith communities have been instrumental in disseminating information and providing vital services to members and congregations, a role that is all the more important as Public Health plans for the upcoming flu season/Covid-19 mix.

In addition, over the last several weeks, I have participated in multiple webinars, meetings, discussions and trainings with interfaith clergy colleagues around the election and post-election preparedness. Some of these have been local and Seattle-specific; others have been organized nationally to address particular topics. All of these virtual gatherings have stressed the importance of working now to build and strengthen diverse coalitions so that we will be ready to call on, support, and mobilize one another in the weeks and months ahead, whatever may transpire.

Looking towards to the election, it’s important for us to remember that the unique strength of this country is that we have always been striving “to form a more perfect unionacross all sorts of lines of division and diversity. Our democracy is strongest when all voices are heard, and contribute to the collective.

As a Jewish community, we bring to this election the core moral teaching of Genesis: that every human being is created in the divine image, and therefore has intrinsic worth. If every human being is sacred, then by extension, every human voice deserves to be heard. In our American democracy, each person’s voice is represented by their vote. If every human life is sacred, then every vote is sacred too. Thus, from a Jewish and moral place, we assert unequivocally that in this (and every) election, every vote must be counted.

While this demand to count all votes may seem basic, it needs to be said – now, before the election, and repeatedly over the coming days and weeks. I believe that there is a real possibility that certain politicians – who are in fact afraid that their power may be slipping away and are getting desperate – may try to hold onto power unfairly, working to ensure that NOT every vote is counted. It is up to us to demand that every vote matters. And fortunately, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with friends and neighbors from across every faith tradition, in speaking these moral truths.

This week, I invite you to join me in taking action, including sharing these messages in every way that you possibly can: in conversation, on social media, with your friends and family.

1) First, between now and next Tuesday, please VOTE (if you haven’t already), encourage others to vote, and do whatever you can to increase voter turnout, here and across the country. Many of you are already engaged in phone and/or text banking, poll watching, and more; now is also the time to dig deep and make one last pre-election donation to candidates or causes that matters to you. (Remember: the important races are not only the ones at the top of the ballot… there are many places where your time, energy, and money may really matter this week!)

2) Second, on November 3rd, we will try to exercise patience and resolve. While the president may be calling for election results on that night, it’s quite likely that we won’t know who has won every important election right away. (We voters here in Washington state already have experience with mail-in ballots taking a while to count, and this election season it may be more true than ever, due to the pandemic and the high voter turnout by mail, particularly in states where this is not the norm. See below to read a message that my colleagues and I of the Washington Coalition of Rabbis published this week on this topic.) The bottom line: it is up to us to help spread the message of the importance of counting every vote, even if it takes time.

3) Third, in the days that follow the election – and possibly weeks and/or months -- we must be prepared to continue sharing these messages, with the public and with elected officials across the country. This will be true even if there are legal challenges in multiple states, and/or politicians purposefully working to sow doubt or create chaos in order to cheat the system. We will stay on message: that we care about counting every vote, and that we are part of a broad and strong, diverse and multi-faith coalition of Americans who believe in the power of every person’s voice and the collective voice of the people. We will be prepared to take additional steps, such as non-violent protest, if this becomes necessary, in order to ensure that every vote is counted.

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech L’cha, Abram and Sarai are called to action. And then, just before the parasha ends, we witness two significant name changes: Abram becomes Abraham, and Sarai becomes Sarah. The Torah explains that Abraham will now be “the father of a multitude of nations” and that Sarah “shall give rise to nations” (Genesis 17:5 and 17:16). Much of Abraham and Sarah’s strength and power lies in the fact that they are to be the common ancestors for many different nations. As such, they represent the kind of unity that is about bringing together a multiplicity of diverse voices.

As we move past this second anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting – even as we continue to grieve our losses – let us set our sights on the future we have the power to build in this country. Our democracy is resilient. We are part of a strong, diverse and multi-faith coalition that speaks with moral authority. Together, we assert that every voice must be counted.

In the spirit of Abraham and Sarah, who give rise to multitudes, we embrace the motto of these United States of America: E pluribus unum,” “Out of many, one.”

Wishing us all strength, fortitude, and the knowledge that we are in this election season together,

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum